March 16, 2006
Forget March—Try Midseason Madness
The Olympics drama is over. The Oscar drama is over. The TV ratings drama is just beginning. Now that the networks have a handle on what worked in the fall (ABC's "Commander-in-Chief") and what didn't (CBS's "Head Cases"), it's time to make room for some midseason replacements that -- if they do well -- will return to the schedule this fall.
With shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," ABC is now the place to be for dramas and dramedies. But how will a new family comedy fare on a network that was once home to uber-sitcoms "Full House" and "Growing Pains" -- and is now the place to find "Freddie" and "Rodney" (yeah, we haven't seen them either)?
"Sons & Daughters" (Tuesdays at 9 p.m.), created by Fred Goss (who also stars) and Nick Holly, is ABC's answer to critically acclaimed but ratings-deprived "Arrested Development." The modern-day family comedy about the Walker/Halbert siblings and their parents and children is a mix of improvisational and scripted humor, although it is hard to tell which is which.
Goss plays Cameron Walker, whose second wife, Liz, is Jewish. As a result, in the first episode, evil Aunt Rae tells their young daughter, Marni, that the family is going to hell. While Aunt Rae is napping, the kids use a marker to draw a Hitler mustache on her face, and Henry, Cameron's resentful teenage son from his first marriage, gets it all on camera.
Cameron is based largely on creator Goss' own life -- he is married to a Jewish woman and is raising his kids Jewish -- and facing prejudice from some of his family members.
The show airs in the "Commander-in-Chief" spot through mid-April, and while it isn't a typical comedy (no laugh track), you might find yourself laughing at the similarity between its family and yours.
ABC also ventures into the CBS stronghold of crime solving with "The Evidence" (Wednesdays at 10 p.m., starting March 22). In every episode, the audience plays detective with inspector Sean Cole (Rob Estes) and Cayman Bishop (Orlando Jones), who get help from Dr. Sol Gold (Martin Landau).
The whodunit takes place in San Francisco (one of the few places "C.S.I." hasn't been) and kicks off each episode with Gold presenting clues from a videotaped evidence log. The show then goes to the day the crime was committed, and viewers can play along with the detectives as they find each clue, determine its meaning, put the pieces together and solve the crime.
Landau, who won an Oscar for portraying Bela Lugosi in 1994's "Ed Wood" and picked up a 2005 Jewish Image Award for his work in "The Aryan Couple," told The Journal that he's happy to play a Jewish character again.
"They always cast me as Italian," said Landau, who has recently been Anthony LaPaglia's father, Frank Malone, on the CBS drama, "Without a Trace."
If the show can draw viewers from NBC's staple, "Law & Order," expect it to hang around until the fall.
Switching channels, the WB (soon to be CW) adds a new guys-who-can't-figure-out-women-but-aren't-sure-why comedy to its lineup with "Modern Men" (Fridays, 9:30 p.m., starting March 17), from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
Twentysomething childhood friends Tim (Josh Braaten), Kyle (Max Greenfield) and Doug (Eric Lively) each have problems with the women -- or lack thereof -- in their lives and seek the advice of life coach Dr. Victoria Stangel (Jane Seymour).
Adding to the mix is Tim's dad, Tug (George Wendt), a former NFL player, and law school student and sister, Molly (Marla Sokoloff), the catalyst for the men seeking professional help, who tells them: If women don't need men any more, it's up to men to make women want them.
Sokoloff has been seen on the small screen as Lynette's cutie-pie nanny on "Desperate Housewives" and as the firm's receptionist on the late ABC drama, "The Practice." The actress-singer-songwriter told The Journal that she enjoyed playing a young Jewish woman in "The Tollbooth" (for which she won a Jewish Image Award). She is so much fun to watch that maybe it's time for her to get her own show.
The male-dominated sitcom concept can either work (CBS's "Two and a Half Men") or tank (NBC's "Four Kings"). If "Modern Men" can keep the numbers of its lead-in -- "Reba" -- on a evening lineup filled with female-geared shows, it might end up in the former category.
The Donald is back for another round of hirings and firings -- well, mostly firings, on the latest round of "The Apprentice" (Mondays at 9 p.m.). This year's crop of candidates includes Orthodox Jews Lee Bienstock, 22, and Daniel Brody, 31.
Bienstock, a business analyst and Cornell University graduate who counts Israel among his top travel destinations, has already made one trip to the boardroom after his team, Gold Rush, lost the first challenge of the season. Bienstock escaped unharmed but was told beforehand by project manager Tarek Saab not to throw blame Saab's way for the loss or Bienstock would become a "target."
In the second episode, Bienstock became project manager, and his team won -- but some early mismanagement on his part could have easily lost the task for Gold Rush. Past seasons have shown that the "young guy" always gets fired before the final two -- usually for not having enough experience or being too cocky.
Brody, an alum of Yeshiva University and founder of Brody Sport, a designer brand of activewear, was also on the Gold Rush team but escaped a visit to the boardroom. In the second episode, he showed he can be relied upon to do what is asked of him. The New Jersey native and father of two could break the "entrepreneurs don't get picked" reputation the show has exhibited so far.
Bienstock and Brody both went to shul for Rosh Hashanah during the week three task -- much to the chagrin of fellow teammates, specifially 37-year-old Lenny Val, a Russian-born New Jerseyite who, when Brody said they would be gone, said, "This is f------ stupid," and then pointed out several times in the episode that even though he is Jewish, he wasn't taking off.
Val told Bienstock and Brody that if Gold Rush loses, he would blame them -- and continued to do so after their team indeed lost their task. Though neither Bienstock nor Brody was taken to the boardroom, Val was and told Trump that he is Jewish and could have taken off, but he felt the team was more important. Trump told Val, who was not fired, that he could have chosen to take off -- but "that's life."
It will be intersting to see how Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah play into the next few episodes.
The Journal gives a warm send-off to syndication heaven to a trio of longtime shows: NBC's Sunday night political drama, "The West Wing" (also on Bravo), which ends its term with an election that could go either way); The WB's Monday night family drama, "7th Heaven," which spent 10 years offering a wholesome look at a reverend, his wife, their Jewish in-laws and seven kids who got into more trouble than the Bradford children on "Eight Is Enough"; and NBC's Thursday night sitcom, "Will & Grace" (on Lifetime and the WB), which brought gaydar and tons of guest stars to the small screen, along with Grace's (Debra Messing) humorous nods to the holidays: "I mean, the holidays are all about ... misery and ... obligation ... and the Maccabees riding an elephant, or whatever the hell Chanukah is about."